Monday, 19 September 2016

1-hour hopper fare for London Buses is not unlimited transfers

One Day Bus and Tram Oyster card

I’ve found an article on the London Reconnections website and they have interviewed Shashi Verma (TfL’s Director of Technology and Customer Experience) about unlimited transfers within 1 hour for the hopper fare.

 I would like to re-produce this in my article:

Two for one Bus Hopper

At a technical level, the new Hopper ticket is reviving existing functionality within Oyster rather than creating new functionality. This is why it was possible for Transport for London to deliver the manifesto pledge within a few months. The Oyster system, which was introduced in 2003, has been reconfigured to allow transfer between buses or bus and tram.

In terms of process, when a passenger taps their card on the Oyster/contactless reader a series of checks are made on the card. At the most basic level: Is there enough money? With the introduction of the Hopper ticket a new question was introduced: Have you boarded a bus or tram within the past hour? If yes, a 100% discount on the £1.50 about to be charged is to be applied. The 2-for-1 ticket works by fully discounting the cost of the second bus or tram leg of journey.

Two functionalities in the workings of the Oyster card are being used to create the Hopper: time since last boarding and fare discount. Both are already used for integrated fares such as when transferring from national rail services to the Tube. The time and the discount are configurable. The former could be anything: 15min, an hour or a month. The latter anything from zero to 100%. “Configure it to 60mins and a 100% discount. That’s how you create a £1.50 in an hour”, Shashi Verma summarises.

Because the 2-for-1 Hopper is reviving existing functionality rather than create anything new the price tag is under £100,000. To set this in perspective, the programmed roll out of Contactless on rail across London came to £68m.

Multi-Buy Hopper

Whilst rolling out to the 2-for-1 Hopper could be turned around with a few tweaks to the Oyster and Contactless card code, allowing unlimited transfers within an hour is more complex.
“So, to do that on Oyster is seriously difficult.” Says Verma. “Very, very difficult. Because we have to get into quite fundamental functioning of Oyster.“ Unlike the 2-for-1 Hopper, which uses existing functionality on Oyster, an Unlimited Hopper would require making changes to the Oyster card back-end product itself.

It is currently possible to code the Unlimited Hopper for Contactless. This is because the back office of Contactless is newer and more accessible than Oyster, whose own back end dates back to the early 2000s. The back end for Contactless allows TfL to create and process data differently from Oyster – in short, more easily. “The mess is the same mess you find with any IT after 15 years. It starts to look a bit old”, Verma adds.

The intention in the long term — not just for the Hopper but in general — is to upgrade the back office of Oyster to the same level of service as Contactless, including linking the two systems. This will allow the complicated fare rules stored in the more sophisticated Contactless back office to act as a single source of information on those rules for both systems. In practical terms this would mean a tapped Oyster card charging a passenger for their trip but also talk to the back office of Contactless. If that passenger is making their third or fourth bus journey within the hour, the Contactless back office can then see that and issue a refund to the card.

This merger of the back offices of Oyster and Contactless is currently set for 2018. Once complete the Unlimited Hopper can be introduced. Yet, this will likely not be the biggest thing to come out of that eventual merger. This will be weekly capping on Oysterfare capping for travel between Monday and Sunday at the price of a 7-day pass. This is currently only available for Contactless users.

The back office merger is part of the wider Contactless programme which began in 2011. The first phase of the programme was launching Contactless on buses in 2012, followed by the roll out of the system across the Tube in 2014.

“The third phase is being done on an extended basis – because unlike the first two phases the third phase is a bit more messy.” Says Verma. “This is where we get into all the complex technology behind Oyster.”

This phase started with upgrades to the telecom infrastructure over the summer. The upgrade will also allow the topping up and buying of tickets to become even easier, via an app with instant delivery rather than the next day as currently. Verma reiterates, however, that although the tweaks may seem small they get into the fundamental functionality of Oyster and are therefore not trivial to make whilst ensuring the system keeps running without hiccups.

The main thing here is that the daily price cap remains at £4.50, which gives you unlimited London bus rides for one day.

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